Few classical English (or even French) gardens would be complete without a wattle fence. This construction method has been used for centuries, and with good cause! It creates a structure that’s as sturdy as it is elegant. Are you ready to start building your own? Well then, read on.
Make a Wattle Fence for Classic Elegance
Gardens are really just an extension of our homes. We fill them with everything we love and nurture them along the way, resulting in something unique and spectacular. Boundaries such as fences are also an important part of the garden. They separate and shield different areas, and create a sheltered, private space.
They also play a large part in stopping local wildlife from damaging and eating your prize plants. Rabbits, mice, deer, and badgers all bring their own style of destruction to a garden. Their antics can result in disappointment, but can also be prevented.
The type of fencing you choose really comes down to individual and personal tastes. Some types of boundaries can enhance a garden’s visual whilst completing a theme. There’s a good selection of different fences on the market, from panel fencing to chain link, post and rail, and picket—the list goes on.
In my opinion, however, few wooden fences compete with a traditional English wattle fence. It’s everything you would want a barrier to be, and is both practical and beautiful to look at.
Wattle uses Sustainable Natural Rescources
Today, I want to share with you my experiences of wattle making. I have built many, many fences over the years, but the wattle fence is my sure favourite. My sons have spent hours with me trawling through woodlands, hacking down hazel sticks and bundling them all together for the three of us to carry home.
I look back on these times with fond memories of muddy Wellies, rosy cheeks, and a typical part of country life.
Woodlands are some of my favourite places to be, especially in early spring. It’s when you can see new life emerging underfoot, before the trees have produced new leaves. I suppose this gave me the perfect excuse to go scavenging in the nearby forests.
What Exactly is Wattle?
This very common method of woven fence construction has been a traditional English craft for centuries.
Historically, this method was used for making moveable hurdles to enclose livestock, such as cattle, sheep and goats. It was—and is still seen as—a solid fence construction that could be made from renewable sources that grow in large quantities on the land.
Over time, it was used regularly throughout Victorian gardens as a separating barrier. In addition, it’s a perfect growing structure for climbing roses and perennials. These include Solanum, Clematis, Lathyrus and the perfectly formed half-hardy Thunbergia alata (a personal favourite of mine).
What you Need to Make a Sturdy Wattle Fence
The fence is made up of two parts. Uprights, also known as “sales” and saplings, known as the “weavers”.
I tend to mostly use hazel for my fences, though willow is another good, pliable wood when soaked. Many people use alternative woods such as elm and alder for this construction method. Ultimately, it really depends on the length and thickness of the individual branches, and what you have at hand.
Uprights and Weavers
The “uprights” need to be made from older, heavier wood. I use half-split hazel stakes around 3–4 inches in diameter, sharpened at one end to make a point. As an example: for a three-foot fence, you need around a 4 to 4.5-foot stake.
These need to be hammered into the soil, about a foot (12 inches) deep if you’re making a static fence. If you’re making a moveable fence panel, then you need to use a wooden jig the same length as your finished panel.
This will have 6 to 8 holes drilled into it, the same diameter as your “uprights”. The jig will hold the panel firm whilst construction takes place.
The “weavers” are from freshly cut, new, young, green wood. Taller and straighter saplings tend to weave more easily and keep their shape. You’re ideally looking for each sapling to fall around 1.5 to 2 inches in diameter. In fact, they’re very similar to the sticks you’d use to make a runner bean support structure. If using Willow, the “weavers” will need to be soaked water for a good couple of days to make them nice and pliable.
- Loppers and a bow saw
- Hand sickle or bush hook
- Hazel, willow or elder Sticks
- Gloves for hand protection
- Measuring tape (greater than the width of your panel)
- Large mallet or hammer
- Small post auger
The Construction Method for Moveable Fence Panels
Select your uprights and tap these into the wooden jig with a mallet. All uprights should be straight and spaced evenly apart.
Next, choose a weaver stick and weave the stick horizontally in and out of the uprights. Start on the left-hand side, and leave a couple of inches overlap. Leave any excess weaver to be dealt with later, once you’ve used all of the uprights and woven your first row.
Select another weaver stick. Starting on the left-hand side again, weave in the opposite way than before. (If you went behind the first upright, this time go in front of the first and behind the second). Continue this to the end of the panel, leaving any excess.
Grab another weaver and start on the left-hand side, again, weave in the opposite way than the last (so, same as the first). Continue this method, alternating the weaving until you’ve reached your fence panel’s ultimate height.
Neaten the excess weaver sticks on the right-hand side with a pair of loppers. Leaving a couple of inches overlap on your last upright. Continue trimming these from top to bottom of your panel. Once you’re happy with your finished panel, lift it from the wooden jig. Just ensure that you don’t undo your weaving in the process.
Voila! Here you have a beautiful, rustic wattle fence ready for use.
Construction Method for Static, Non-Moveable Fencing
Mark a line where you would like your fencing to go. Use a straight edge if you’d like a straight fence, and a garden hose if you want a curved one. The hose can be used to create a perfect arc on the ground, giving you a suitable guide line to follow.
Using your line as a guide, measure and mark every 8 inches, starting on the left end. Use a small post auger to make a hole in the soil at every marker, around 8 inches deep.
Select an upright for each hole. Keep the uprights straight, and use a mallet to hammer each upright into its respective hole. You’ll be able to feel when they’ve hit subsoil, and each post will be structurally sound.
Then, choose a suitable weaver. Starting on the left-hand side, (leaving a two-inch overlap), start to weave your stick in and out of the upright posts. Continue until you’ve run out of stick. Then grab another stick. Starting from the left-hand side again, weave this the opposite way than your previous weaver. (If you went behind the first upright, this time go in front of the first upright and behind the second).
Continue to use this method, weaving in alternate ways, until you have a depth of about 6 weavers.
Move along to the end of your first weaver stick. Select a new stick and ease the larger end behind the upright, one back from where your very first weaver ended. Weave the stick’s remains around the following uprights. This will be in the same way as you did before, in front and behind the uprights.
Continue this for the remaining length of your fence, so you will have a complete fence length of about 6 weavers high.
Then return to the start of your fence line and continue this method for another 6 weavers high. Again, go to the end of your second layer of weavers, easing your next set of sticks one back from where previous ones ended. Continue to weave in front and behind the uprights, in an opposite direction to your last weaver.
Once you’ve reached your ultimate wattle fence height, leave a good inch and a half of uprights at the top.
Tidy up any excess sticks on the right-hand side of your construction, leaving a 2-inch overlap on the last upright.
And there you have it: a strong and static wattle fence.
Treating your Wattle Fence
It is advantageous to treat your fence with a wood preservative at least once a year. This will improve its life span and protect it against the elements. I use either linseed oil or turpentine oil, both of which are easy to paint on, and available at your local garden store.
Other Wattle Ideas
I’ve built a low wattle fence in my garden as well. This not only keeps my dogs from roaming on my flower beds, but looks pretty too. I like the way it gives shape and structure, whilst containing and separating them from my lawn area.
Wattle always works particularly well in rustic, cottage style gardens and Victorian themed kitchen gardens. You can use it in a number of ways, including support structures for squash, courgettes, and pumpkins.
Why not have a look at the wide range of woven structures available and see if you can create some for yourself?
Happy Gardening and Happy Weaving, Everyone!